I'm back from the Big Easy, none the worse for wear. Eleven of us (all women) traveled together on Thursday and returned yesterday. Hurricane Dennis loomed throughout the trip, but all we experienced of it was a couple of minor rainstorms and some wind.
We stayed at the Hotel Villa Convento in the French Quarter. Two other people and I shared a third-floor room that had king-sized bed on the main level and a loft with two twin beds accessible via a rather alarming spiral staircase. Fortunately none of us ended up falling up or down the stairs.
We spent a lot of time in the hotel's courtyard chatting and waiting for members of our party to gather so we could go out. The food we had throughout the trip was very good, particularly the Gumbo Shop where we had my birthday dinner on Thursday night, and the French Market Restaurant and Bar where we had breakfast before we left on Sunday.
Another standout restaurant was the Praline Connection, which had excellent food and service.
Because we had such a large group, we stayed away from "tourist-y" activities for the most part, preferring to wander and shop. I did insist on dragging one of my roommates to Cafe du Monde for beignets yesterday morning, though.
After the first evening on Bourbon Street, we'd had enough of the "spring break" atmosphere and we spent the subsequent evenings at Frenchmen Street clubs. On Saturday night we went to a club called the Blue Nile and saw an awesome band fronted by trumpet player Maurice Brown. I bought his CD as my husband's souvenir.
The most interesting thing we did in New Orleans was attend the funeral parade for Mardi Gras "Indian" Chief of Chiefs Allison "Tootie" Montana on Saturday afternoon. Several local people encouraged us to go, saying it would be a once-in-a-lifetime experience.
We walked to the church in the late morning and watched as dozens of people in elaborate feathered and beaded garb gathered for the procession, chanting and beating drums and tambourines. Jazz musicians with tubas, Souzaphones, cornets, trumpets and other instruments clustered in groups throughout the crowd, warming up lightly as they waited. It was extremely hot that day, so I can only imagine how the people in the feathered suits must have felt.
As we stood in the crowd, everyone we met was very friendly, and we ended up running into our waiter from the Praline Connection and meeting quite a few of his relatives. We'd been advised not to follow the parade, so once the casket was loaded into the horse-drawn hearse and the parade began winding its way through the nearby neighborhoods, we made our way back to our hotel.
Although I'd like to return sometime and do some of the tours and other more traditional tourist activities, I had a wonderful time on my first trip to New Orleans. Now where should I go for my birthday next year?